I read yesterday that Bertha Hertogh passed away.

Who was she?

You may well ask. This tale is half a century old but remains poignant today.

Just in case you haven’t heard her story, here it is :

Because of poverty and hardship during the Second World War, a Dutch woman in Java gives her 5-year-old daughter, Maria, to a Malay woman for adoption. The Malay woman raises the girl as a Muslim and later relocates to Kemaman, Terengganu. Eight years later, when Maria is thirteen, her Dutch parents, after discovering the whereabouts of their daughter, now want her back.

One commentator wrote:

“Who will lose their daughter in this heart-wrenching case? Will it be the Dutch parents who were forced to give her up because of the hardship of the war or will it be the Malay woman who treated her as her own daughter for eight years? Whoever wins, we know one side will suffer and so don’t be surprised to be told that no judge or experienced lawyer will have the gall to say that the law is fair. Justice and fairness are not the same thing. In case you don’t know the full facts of the case and intend to read the [The Nadra Tragedy by Haja Maideen], I shall not reveal who ultimately gains custody of Maria Hertog or Nadra, to use her Muslim name. But I will say that this is a tragedy in the true sense of the word. Nobody wins, everyone loses, everyone is hurt. The fact that eighteen die in the consequent rioting only underscores the tragedy.”


In fact, the judge in Singapore gave judgment in favour of Nadra’s Dutch parents and so the girl was taken away from her Malay foster mother to live in Holland with her biological parents.

As a grown up Nadra said that her happiest times was when she was growing up in Malaysia. The case became a political and religious one, but for me it is the human one that is the most touching. I understand that her life story is being made into a movie. I hope it’s a good one.

History has a lot to teach us. It certainly repeats itself.

But are we willing to learn?